LVIV/KHARKIV: Air raid sirens sounded across Ukraine before dawn on Tuesday as Ukrainian and Russian negotiators prepared to meet in Turkey for face-to-face talks, with Kyiv seeking a ceasefire without compromising on territory or sovereignty.
Ukraine and the United States hold little hope of a breakthrough at the meeting, the first direct talks between the two sides in more than two weeks, even though Russia`s invasion appeared to have stalled on several fronts.
More than a month into the war, the biggest attack on a European nation since World War Two, more than 3.8 million people have fled abroad, thousands have been killed and injured, and Russia`s economy has been pummelled by sanctions.
In the besieged southern port city of Mariupol nearly 5,000 people have been killed, including about 210 children, according to figures from the mayor. Reuters was unable to immediately verify the numbers.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said of the talks in Turkey: “We are not trading people, land or sovereignty.”
“The minimum programme will be humanitarian questions, and the maximum programme is reaching an agreement on a ceasefire,” he said on national television.
A senior U.S. State Department official said Russian President Vladimir Putin did not appear ready to make compromises to end the war.
Ukrainian interior ministry adviser Vadym Denysenko said that he doubted there would be any breakthrough.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said talks so far had not yielded any substantial progress but it was important they continued in person. He declined to give more information.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy during a Monday night address repeated calls for the West to go further in punishing Moscow for its invasion.
“We, people who are alive, have to wait. Doesn`t everything the Russia military has done to date warrant an oil embargo?”
While Western countries have imposed a series of hard-hitting sanctions upon Moscow, Europe is heavily reliant on energy imports from Russia and has been so far reluctant to act to block them.
U.S. and German government officials are due to meet in Berlin this week with energy industry executives to discuss ways to boost alternative supplies for Germany.
The Kremlin has demanded that what it deems “unfriendly” countries pay for Russian gas in roubles, not euros, but is trying to decide a mechanism by which that could work.
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said on Tuesday that Japanese companies would be requested to refuse if Russia asked for rouble payments.
Tokyo also banned the export of luxury goods to Russia, effective April 5, in its latest response to the war. Prohibited items included luxury cars, motorcycles and fashion items.
In besieged Ukrainian cities where conditions are desperate, the threat of Russian attacks has blocked exit routes for civilians, two Ukrainian officials said. In Mariupol, the mayor said about 160,000 people were trapped.
“There is no food for the children, especially the infants. They delivered babies in basements because women had nowhere to go to give birth, all the maternity hospitals were destroyed,” a grocery worker from Mariupol who gave her name only as Nataliia told Reuters after reaching nearby Zaporizhzhia.
As the humanitarian toll continues to rise, the United Nations said it had been able to bring food and medical supplies into Kharkiv, Ukraine`s second-biggest city and one of its hardest hit.